For years, it has been a common misconception that internet users preferred shorter formats for blogs and articles. But, that’s not true. Not only are users interested in longer format articles, but so is Google.
No, this isn’t about the death of short articles or blog posts. They are still a necessary and relevant way to focus on a single topic. Short format writing tends to be concise and capture the reader’s attention, so it’s easier to digest. Of course, shorter formats may oversimplify the topic and leave out many of the details, but this type of “summary” is useful to the reader and for search engine optimization (SEO).
Short format posts and articles are considered to be in the range of 300 to 1,500 words. These take about two to seven minutes to read, which is a reasonable assumption for a writer to be considerate of a reader’s time. But, it’s not enough according to Google.
Enter, the Long Format
Analytics regarding longer articles is not something Google share with us. I’ve only found it through other sites. Some of these sites have reposted outdated statistics from 2012, estimating that top results on search engine results page (SERP) have articles within the range between 2,050 and 2,450 words. Another site states that SERP averages for top results were around 1,890 words. There may not be agreement, but it’s safe to conclude that long format dominates the top search results and averages around 2,000 words. That’s about a ten minute read. Users will take the time to read for ten minutes if it’s worth it.
Now Google does tell us why this happens. To reach the top of the list for any keyword search, the site needs to E–A–T: show Expertise, be an Authority on the keyword, and are Trustworthy. They collect data from a wide range of criteria, which long format fits the always important dwell time (time spent by users on a page). This makes sense because the average reading time doubles when users are engaged with longer formats. These pages are considered to be “sticky.”
The other major criteria Google places on top-of-the-list results is Click Through Rate (CTR). This is a measure of how many times a link has been clicked on relative to the amount of impressions it makes. For example, if your site has 1,000 impressions (impressions occur when a user can see a link to your site), but only 1 click on that link, then you get sent further and further down the list. Relevance is what Google is looking for and long format typically fits users’ needs, because it’s relevant to what they are searching for.
Low Bounce Rates and Backlinks
We know that Google uses dwell time to determine if a user finds the content relevant or not. Dwell time also decides if the content appeals to only a few people or a larger audience of users through bounce rates (the amount of users who leave a site after learning that it wasn’t what they were looking for). A low bounce rate indicates that the content is relevant to a large swath of users, which means that it is probably what they are looking for when typing in their keywords. But, there are other factors affecting bounce rates, such as pop-up windows or a page that loads too slow. These aren’t reflective of the content, but do concern the Trustworthiness of the website.
Google wants the best user experience—every time. Showing a bias for long format articles seems like a logical criteria. Plus, they have site evaluators that are people, not machines or algorithms, who examine a single page to determine if it has a low or high E–A–T value. Higher values are gained through showing Authority, which comes from backlinks (websites referencing the page). If the backlink comes from an Expert on the topic, then the page has a higher Authority value. Best part of this is that long format content has more backlinks associated with it than short format. [670 words]
Challenges: Long Format Writing
It’s not easy to write 500 words, let alone 2,000. Added to this fact is that it’s even harder to write it when the topic is obscure or boring. That’s why hiring or contracting with a professional writer is so important for any company’s marketing efforts. Yet, sadly, most companies neglect this fact and skimp by doing the minimum. See the slippery-slope? Fewer words. Less relevance. Poor marketing.
As a professional writer, I’ve written many long format articles and essays. It was required writing for my Master of Fine Arts degree. I’ve mentored several people on writing long format essays and articles. It’s not easy to do. Writing isn’t cookie-cutter, assembly line work. It takes advanced knowledge of language and communication. But, the biggest challenges for inexperienced or poor writing is research and synthesis.
Popular misconception: It takes 3 hours to write a 1,000 words. This is not a good average. Sometimes an article flows, while other times it lags. Can something be written in that amount of time? Of course it can, but that depends upon the writer and the topic. I would raise this from my personal experience (as a good typist) to 5 hours minimum. Why? Good writing takes research and time to synthesize it.
Being tasked with writing for the company is a different role than being hired to be the writer. Even if you’re a good writer, writing articles and blogs isn’t something you do every day. Which is why I think it’s important to how to write longer blogs, so you can contribute to your company’s success. Whether you hire a professional writer, or attempt to write these long articles yourself, you need to know how they are composed. The following writing tips are also for anyone who hires a writer, because you need to make sure that they are providing quality work.
Know Your Audience
First, knowing the audience is key to what kind of research you need to do. Simple how-to blogs, such as this one, only require good, authoritative voices from a plethora of blogs and articles on the internet. More technical articles may need research from digital libraries found on Google Scholar, where scientific research is located in peer-reviewed articles, dissertations, and theses.
I suggest spending a lot of time researching and reading. During this time, take notes on a legal pad. Write down the most salient points of the article, pull a quote if you want (make sure you attribute it by name or with a link). This will also give you an idea of what others are saying about your topic and how you can be different to make yourself heard on the internet.
Dare to be a little different. Pandering to what everyone else is saying won’t keep people on your page. Making it personal is always a good way to share your unique perspective on this topic. Also, making it relevant to the reader’s life is a great way to make it appealing. Show them how your article will make their life better in some way. According to the research, this will also garner backlinks.
Planning and Editing
It’s incredibly rare to write a solid first draft. In order to do it, you need to be an expert—immersed in the subject—and a good writer. That’s why outlining your long format article is important. Some people prefer other kinds of methods, such as using annotations or stream of consciousness, but I don’t think that works very well for novice writers. Outlining gives talking points to expand your argument, to elaborate upon the details, and make it all credible with links to research.
Best part is that you’ve already started your outline. It’s in your notes from your research. All you need to do is arrange it all in a logical order, from beginning to end: introduction, body, and conclusion. I know, this is from our days in elementary school, but it works.
In academic writing, the introduction contains a problem. This is the one thing vexing others about your chosen topic. The introduction also talks about the purpose, the “Why you are writing about this” and it’s relevance to the reader. Remember that introductions get to the point quickly, then move on.
“Another way to keep the reader interested is to point out interesting facts and tidbits using pull quotes.”
The body of your article will support your claims. It’s time to write about what you learned. You can be creative with this by using video and infographics along with lots of words. Make sure you attach the video transcript somewhere with your work. Another way to keep the reader interested is to point out interesting facts and tidbits using pull-quotes. You see them in news articles all the time. These work a lot like the images and pictures to break up the steady stream of words.
When you reach your conclusion, don’t just summarize what you’ve already said. You need to point out the most important things, how it has affected you, or what the reader should look for in the future.
Then, once you have finished, you should step away from your article after your first draft. This is a good time to pat yourself on the back, because you made it through a difficult task. Get some coffee or tea, because when you are ready, you’ll need to do at least two passes to edit a long format article.
Always read your first draft without a red pen. This will help you understand if your argument flows in a logical way. These are called story edits and they are necessary for tightening up the article. You need to make sure that your reader is able to process the information in a logical way. Jumping from topic-to-topic will only confuse them. Use transitions for a softer landing between disparate topics or details. Story edits have to happen prior to dealing with the line edits.
Sentence structure, tone, voice, point of view, and a whole host of other things are required for line edits. One thing to keep in mind is readability. If you read it out loud, you’ll be able to edit your work better. A few typos can be forgiven, but poor writing is never rewarded. Try to maintain the reader’s attention with great word choices and approachable language (conversational, like this article).
After your line edits are done, show it to a friend or coworker for a clarity check. You can incorporate their feedback, correct your mistakes, then post it. [1785 words]
Practice Makes Perfect
Over time, your writing will get better. Keep at it. The trick to wanting to write more is believing in the topic you’re writing about. The company you work for and the work you do should give you that kind of motivation. Write about them because they are special to you. Investigate why it should be interesting to others and let them know what you learned. There are a lot of people out there that care about the same stuff. Reach out to them through your writing.
The Long and Short of It
Long format articles provide more value to the reader, because they dive further into a subject. As readers, we want to know more about these details because they may help us at work, in our home, or with our relationships. Too often, I get tricked into reading an article with a catchy title that fits my keyword search, but it doesn’t have any substance. Those articles trapped me for several minutes and proved to be inauthentic. As a consequence, I will avoid that website in the future. That’s why it’s so important to make your writing count.
Now, you can see that we’ve reached the official long format criteria. Writing this took my entire day, but it’s worth it, because I’ve hopefully helped you understand a little more about SEO, Google’s penchant for long format articles, and how to write them. Please leave a comment or share this article with someone you know that could benefit from some writing instruction.